If the Greenhornes were asked to talk about themselves as a band, they would probably say, "Uh ... " In fact, that's what they said when I asked them to. But how can you blame them? Why should they explain themselves when their music speaks for itself? When they roll into town Thursday, Dec. 5, for a show in Carrboro at Go!, they'll explain all you need to know about them in a 45-minute set.
The Greenhornes are a band from Cincinnati, Ohio, that, more than many recent bands that have tried, actually sound like they recorded an album 35 years ago. Their new album Dual Mono (Telstar) is full of tambourines, reverb, fuzz guitar, and vocals that ooze with primal male longing. Like their two previous records, 1999's Gun For You and last year's self-titled album, it brings to mind The Beatles' Revolver, and the Yardbirds, and CCR, and any of the bands on either of Rhino's recent Nuggets box sets of garage rock from around the world. At least more so than many bands described as such.
Now part of the secret to being a bona fide garage band is recordings honoring that aesthetic. It's not just about old pinstriped pants, or playing a big hollowbody guitar, or waxing enthusiastic about that second MC5 record ("their most underrated one, man ... "), or lyrics such as "gonna [insert verb here] you, girl" or "UNGH! C'mon c'mon!" The reason some people pine for obscure singles by '60s rock bands from Scandinavia is the authenticity involved in those records. When bands around the world started "rocking" for the first time, they were reacting to the reactions of several white boys from England to several black men from America. It was new and liberating for both bands and listeners, so the delivery and receipt of the rock was untainted by Clear Channel or MTV or rehashed fashion concepts dictated by the New York club scene. And recording studios didn't have computers or huge mixing boards or $5,000 microphones--what they had shaped the way everything sounded, which to us now sounds dated or "vintage." Records had a specific sonic aura, but without the nagging presence of postmodernism.
It doesn't seem at all like The Greenhornes have an angle or kitsch for their existence. They're not treading any new ground, and they know this (also part of authenticity--acknowledging one's influences without ironic justification for doing so). Some of their songs have the exact chord progressions from the artists they're obviously inspired by; Dual Mono's "Too Much Sorrow" is a slowed down version of Van Morrison's "Gloria" and "You'll Be Sorry" has that chiming guitar chop from "Taxman." Both musically and lyrically the album is full of the aforementioned primal male longing: "No girl/by my side/No girl for me to hold/No girl/in my arms/No girl/by my side," they expound on "Three Faint Calls," speaking of the simple desires of the adolescent male. This isn't music that spends much time postulating on the intricate workings of attraction. But that doesn't at all mean that it's stupid.
Some of the credit, at least for the sonic aspect of Dual Mono, goes to John Curley, who recorded the album. (Curley played bass for the Afghan Whigs, four suave Ohio men who made several great records described as "punk-soul"; they did some overly histrionic but amazing versions of Barry White and Al Green songs but became formulaic enough to end up on the soundtrack to She's All That.) Instead of making the guitars on the album stand up front, a staple move on many current rock albums, Curley sticks them behind the rhythm section, which drives the songs even more.
Drummer Patrick Keeler knows exactly how to lead the band, whether it's pounding out the chorus on "Satisfy My Mind" or stomping Bonham-like through the Buddy Holly-meets-Black-Sabbath stylings of "Pigtails and Kneesocks." Little touches like the harpsichord melody of "Don't Come Running to Me" or prolific British blues chanteuse Holly Golightly's vocals on "There is an End" and "Gonna Get Me Someone" (a cover of the 1966 hit by British mods The Game) give the album more dimensions than just troglodyte rock, although they are capable of such.
So like I said, they play tomorrow night at Go! Room 4. Seeing them in a room that size should be perfect for their brilliantly catchy stomp, so it's worth putting aside whatever responsibility would normally prevent you from staying in on a Thursday. Opening the show are four sexy individuals from Carrboro called The Man, who will give a dissertation on a few of their influences from the decade after those that inspired The Greenhornes. If you like Raw Power and skinny dudes in white leather pants and white elbow length gloves, they'll probably grab your attention. But if you go, leave your inner 21st-century music critic at home--irony forbidden.